Could regular sexual intercourse keep the menopause at bay?
It's an intriguing possibility suggested by the results from a study from University College, London, which followed nearly 3,000 women for 10 years. Researchers discovered those who had sex at least once a week were almost a third less likely to have gone through the menopause than women who had monthly sex – that was true of any age of the cohort tested. By contrast, those who had monthly sex were 19% less likely to experience menopause.
Sex was defined as intercourse, oral sex, touching or self-stimulation for the purposes of the study.
At the start of the research, the women were, on average, around 45 years old. Most were in relationships.
None of the women who took part had already entered the menopause, but 46 per cent were starting to experience early symptoms (known as peri-menopause), such as hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety and vaginal dryness.
From a medical perspective, the definition of the menopause is when menstrual periods cease for 12 consecutive months and no other biological or physiological cause can be identified. The average age this happens for women is 52.
This study raises the intriguing possibility that sexual activity stimulates the production of oestrogen, but it also may be because sex drive or frequency of sex and age at menopause are decided by some other hormonal or biological factor that was not measured in the study. In this case the link would not be causal.
Researchers looked at whether living with a male partner played a part but found no link, suggesting that exposure to male pheromones did not explain the findings.
The paper’s senior author, Prof Ruth Mace commented: “The menopause is, of course, an inevitability for women, and there is no behavioural intervention that will prevent reproductive cessation. Nonetheless, these results are an initial indication that menopause timing may be adaptive in response to the likelihood of becoming pregnant.”
According to Professor John Studd the link between low levels of oestrogen and a lack of interest in physical intimacy is long established – a lot of this is because of the unpleasant symptoms brought about by plummeting levels of the hormone.
He says: The most common symptoms of oestrogen deficiency around the time of the menopause are hot flushes and night sweats which produce insomnia and tiredness together with headaches. However vaginal dryness and painful intercourse is another highly characteristic symptom of hormone deficiency.
Prof Studd and his team of expert gynaecologists see low libido and other menopause symptoms as highly treatable for the majority of women by ensuring that women get the correct dosage of hormone replacement therapy:
‘HRT is an excellent option,’ he explains ‘Many of these symptoms can be treated with oestrogens, sometimes with the addition of a small dose of testosterone. It is vital to match the hormone treatment type and dosage to meet individual needs.’